The Life-Changing Persian Soup I’ve Been Making for 15 Years (and Counting)

updated Jan 22, 2021
Kitchn Love Letters
Aash-e Jow (Persian Barley, Rice, & Bean Soup)

This herbaceous, aromatic Persian soup is made with barley, lentils, rice, beans, and spices.

Serves8

Prep10 minutes to 15 minutes

Cook1 hour to 1 hour 5 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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barley, lentil, rice and bean soup with caramelized onions and yogurt
Credit: Jason Rampe

Throughout this food life of mine, I’ve been given guides — people or things who have encouraged me to be better or taught me something new. I never forget these souls who have graced my life and left me with something of value.

A few lifetimes ago, I was a receptionist for the PCC Natural Markets corporate office in Seattle. The organic grocery co-op also has a cooking school, and occasionally they would offer the office staff free lunchtime cooking classes. One of those classes was my first introduction to Omid Roustaei and Aash-e Jow, a Persian soup made of barley, rice, beans, and lentils. It was also my first time experiencing Iranian flavors.

Omid was an eager teacher, passionate about bringing Persian cuisine to every table. I don’t remember much about the class other than the incredible food (after all, this was over 15 years ago), but when I recently reached out to Omid, he spoke of how nervous he had been, and how he ran short on time and had to finish the soup in a pressure cooker. I don’t remember any of that! What I do remember is his energetic teaching style and the final product: the soup.

Learning to Make Aash-e Jow

Omid began by cooking aromatics with turmeric, cumin, and coriander, which filled the room with a delicious aroma. I had never smelled these combinations of spices before, let alone used them in my own cooking. He added the pearled barley, lentils, and basmati rice, and coated the grains in the spices. He then added water and brought it all up to a simmer. 

Next up were the caramelized onions, which he cooked until they were dark and crispy, and then tossed in dried mint and garlic. He then chopped so many greens and herbs — spinach, cilantro, and parsley — and when the grains were cooked through, he added in the herbs with garbanzo beans. The final touch? A little sour cream, used in place of the traditional whey. 

I knew I loved this humble bowl of soup before it was even placed before me — I could smell it in the air. And when I tasted it, I loved it even more than I thought I would. It was a defining moment in my young cook’s heart. I have taken these flavors and these ingredients with me on my life journey. 

A Truly Life-Changing Soup

I took the packet from the class and kept it in my kitchen, and I’ve probably made the soup a hundred times since for my family and friends. We call it Persian Soup night. It’s vegetarian, so you can feed it to almost anyone, and I’ve omitted the barley for my gluten-free friends and the dairy for my vegan friends. At some point, I switched from sour cream to Greek yogurt, and sometimes I switch up the herbs and add dill to the parsley and cilantro. I always make twice as many caramelized onions because I have a habit of snacking on them while I’m cooking.

Eventually, the packet from the class was covered in cooking mess, so I transcribed the recipe to a card I kept in a recipe box (this was before Pinterest). I used that recipe card until the ink faded, and I’ve since been forced to cook it from memory until I recently reached out to Omid for the recipe, which I’m sharing here.

That class, 15 years ago, created a culinary curiosity within me that changed my life and kept me seeking more. I’ve never forgotten Omid, who, to this day, is still teaching with the same warm energy that I remember, bringing Persian flavors to every table. I’ve made his soup so many times that now it has become part of my family’s life fabric. My daughters will always have the memory of this soup at our dinner table, and it’s possible they love it so much that they will serve at their own tables, too.

Aash-e Jow (Persian Barley, Rice, & Bean Soup)

This herbaceous, aromatic Persian soup is made with barley, lentils, rice, beans, and spices.

Prep time 10 minutes to 15 minutes

Cook time 1 hour to 1 hour 5 minutes

Serves 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the caramelized onion garnish:

  • 2

    large yellow onions

  • 4 cloves

    garlic

  • 1/4 cup

    olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons

    dried mint

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

For the aash-e-jow:

  • 1

    large yellow onion

  • 1/4 cup

    olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, or more to taste

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground coriander

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground turmeric

  • 1/2 cup

    white basmati rice

  • 1/2 cup

    pearled barley

  • 1/2 cup

    French green lentils

  • 8 cups

    water, plus more as needed

  • 1 (about 15-ounce) can

    garbanzo or cannellini beans

  • 2 ounces

    baby spinach (about 2 cups)

  • 1 bunch

    fresh parsley

  • 1 bunch

    fresh cilantro

  • Plain Greek yogurt, for serving

Instructions

Make the caramelized onion garnish:

  1. Thinly slice 2 large yellow onions. Coarsely chop 4 garlic cloves. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and a pinch of kosher salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 20 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed.

  2. Add the garlic, 3 tablespoons dried mint, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and stir to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

Make the aash-e jow:

  1. Peel and dice 1 large yellow onion. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of kosher salt and cook until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, and 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric. Stir until the spices coat the onion, about 1 minute more.

  2. Add 1/2 cup basmati rice, 1/2 cup pearled barley, and 1/2 cup French lentils, and stir until well combined. Add 8 cups water and bring to simmer.

  3. Cover and simmer until the grains and lentils are al dente, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, drain and rinse 1 can garbanzo or cannellini beans. Coarsely chop 2 ounces spinach until you have 2 cups. Coarsely chop the leaves from 1 bunch fresh parsley leaves until you have 1 cup. Coarsely chop 1 bunch cilantro leaves and tender stems until you have 1 cup.

  4. Add the beans, parsley, cilantro, and spinach to the rice mixture. Stir and bring back to a simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally and making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot, until grains are tender and cooked through and soup has thickened but is still a bit loose, about 15 minutes more. (Add more water if it gets too thick.) Taste and season with kosher salt as needed. Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt and garnish with the reserved caramelized onions.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The caramelized onions can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. Let come to room temperature before serving.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 days. If the soup has thickened, thin out with water when reheating.